You’d think the kids who spent less time in the principal’s office and more time studying would develop into more successful adults, but that’s not necessarily the case.
A recent study suggests that those who had poor grades or were disciplined more frequently in school might actually have a better chance at being happier and successful later in life. In addition, researchers have found that other attributes prove far better indicators of future potential than academic performance or discipline rates.
While there’s undoubtably a wide range of factors that determine how a child fares in the future, researchers have identified some of the attributes that can lead to better outcomes.
Above or below average grades
A recent survey of over 1,000 American workers conducted by Office Depot found that those who excelled in elementary and middle school were, perhaps unsurprisingly, more likely to earn a postgraduate degree. According to the survey, 38% of those who got A’s as kids went on to complete a Master’s degree.
What’s surprising is that those who earned really low grades early on were more likely to earn a postgraduate degree than with an average academic performance. More than 20% of those who earned D’s and F’s in elementary and middle school went on to complete a postgraduate degree, compared with less than 14% of those who earned B’s and C’s.
The study, however, did find a correlation between childhood academic performance and future earnings. While there was little statistical relevance in future earnings among students with different grades in elementary school, those who earned A’s in middle school reported earned nearly $6,000 more per year than B and C students and almost $11,000 more than D and F students.
Visiting the principal’s office
The study also found that those who were regularly sent to the principal’s office as children were almost twice as likely to become business owners as adults. According to the survey, 20.5% of those who say they were regularly disciplined by the principal went on to become entrepreneurs, compared with 11.5% among those who never got sent to the principal’s office.
“We see a lot of articles these days about the necessity of being a rule breaker in order to become an entrepreneur,” explained Claire Cole, a project manager at Office Depot. “The stat that we found in our research gives a nod towards that, in that someone who is following the rules to a T may be missing opportunities to make something better, or find a new way of doing things.”
Breaking the rules
Those who said they were rule breakers as children also reported higher levels of overall satisfaction as adults. According to the survey, those who “hardly ever” followed the rules landed among the top 61st percentile for overall life satisfaction, ahead of those who sometimes or always followed the rules.
Though the study couldn’t explain why, Cole believes the finding suggests a correlation between independence and happiness. “If you’re a rule breaker, maybe that means you’re marching to the beat of your own drum a bit more and having a bit more self-determination, so maybe that’s what leads people to greater life satisfaction,” she says.
Playing nicely with others
Rather than academic performance or discipline, research conducted by the Aspen Institute found that a positive social and emotional upbringing leads to greater outcomes later in life.
“That includes things like sharing in kindergarten and the ability to play and interact with others in an intentional way,” explains Jennifer M. Ng’andu, managing director of program at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “Those kids 30 years later, looking at a massive sample, showed they had better outcomes.”
Such outcomes include reduced incarceration rates, lower rates of mental illness, greater educational attainment, and higher average income, says Ng’andu. “What I think is really important about these findings is that the social and emotional skills of a child were more predicative than things like whether your parents were poor.”
The right kind of practice
What do elite athletes, chess grand masters, surgeons, and professional musicians all have in common? According to research conducted by K. Anders Ericsson, they likely found something they genuinely wanted to master at a young age.
The Florida State University psychology professor spent the last 30 years studying peak performers, publishing his findings in a 2016 book, Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise. In it he concludes that “deliberate practice” is key to mastering just about anything, but it requires a longstanding commitment and genuine enthusiasm, starting at a young age.
“Motivation is part of skill,” he explains. “[Elite performers] identify something they really enjoy doing, and they’re also in a situation where they have parents and teachers and supports investing time in doing that activity.”
In other words, many of the world’s elite performers were genuinely excited about dedicating their time and energy to practicing and improving a given skill set and had the resources to help them improve over time. While they may have gotten in trouble at school or earned less than stellar grades, they found something they wanted to master and had the ability to dedicate their time and energy to it.
“It’s your job to actually find things that make you more willing to put in the time and refine your performance,” explains Ericsson. “That gives you insight that potentially could apply to whatever it is you’re doing in your professional life later on, which most likely has nothing to do with what you were doing in your adolescence.”